Building Sustainability Expert Invents a Greener Coffee Cup

a version of this article appeared on Vitamin W

By day, sustainability expert Karla Zens works in green estate.  By night, she makes coffee cups.  Zens has invented a collapsible mug called Zip Cup designed to put a dent in the 58 billion paper cups trashed each year.  It’s being presold on Indigogo right now

“I build green buildings during the day and trying to bring those values to Zip Cup,” says this professional who can certify LEED buildings. “This is related directly to my passion.”  Changing the field of retail real estate she says is slow moving.  But Zip Cups could change the urban trashscape.

If she gets them into the hands of one in three coffee drinkers, as she hopes to do, it could make a real dent in the mound of trash.

Zen’s sustainability background has helped: “Working in product development, there’s a lot I bring from green real estate to the concept, recycling and choosing materials that are safer for people there is complete cross over; it’s puts me in a different position than product developer.”

Necessity didn’t mother this invention. Art did. Sustainable building expert Karla Zens saw a photo by Chris Jordan of 15 minutes worth of paper cups used in America.

Then, she remembered those metal collapsible cups for camp. Using plumbing parts, Zens crafted a prototype. So the San Franciso resident consulted engineers who added a twist-locking technique used in submarines – and in space.

The result: a sturdy cup that will fit into an evening bag.  Zens hopes the handiness will increase use of travel mugs: right now just about 2% of Starbuck customers bother to bring their own cup.

After the Indiegogo campaign Zens hopes to get retail orders, a distributor and “start building a company.” Her ultimate goal: to get a Zip Cup into the hand of 1 in every 3 coffee drinkers–which would make a real dent in the landfill.  She figures that if she sells 100,000 cups, that would save 36 million cups from the landfill, 400,000 gallons of water and 40 trees in one year.

She says the fun has been, “seeing it come to life – from parts at the hardware store, to picking up the 3-D printed prototype.”  Working in the sustainable building industry is complementary to this business and Zens says she brings the same values to the Zip Cup. Green but profitable.

The Zip Cup is BPA-free and dishwasher safe. When expanded it holds 16 oz., which is equivalent to a coffee chain medium. For just $25 you can pre-buy a cup through the Indiegogo campaign. If you buy one takeaway coffee per day, it will save you approximately $36 a year – more than the cost of the cup.

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